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Lone Star State

Ben_Tate2

For the better part of the past three and half seasons, Arian Foster has been a one-man fantasy football wrecking crew for the Houston Texans. Over that 51-game span, he’s posted 4,521 rushing yards (on 4.5 yards per carry) and scored a ridiculous 44 rushing touchdowns. When you add in his 167 catches, 1,531 receiving yards and six additional scores through the air, you have the definition of a fantasy stud. Owners who were lucky enough to land him late in their 2009 rookie draft or as an undrafted free agent later that Summer likely have at least one dynasty championship to show for it.

While Foster is still just 26 years of age, there are some alarming signs of a deterioration in his skills, most notably his decreasing yards per carry average over the past three years. In fact, it took Foster a whopping 351 carries to get his 1,424 rushing yards last season. While he’s still firmly entrenched as the starter in Houston for the foreseeable future, we’ve all seen running backs decline rather quickly, so it’s wise to take a look at the roster of the Texans to see who may be next in line to be the lone star in Houston. With the Texans commitment to the run and success with previously unknown players like Foster and Domanick Davis (Williams), ignoring the depth chart behind Foster would be foolish.

With that in mind, we break down the backup running back battle in Houston to see just who may be worth a proactive pickup in the case Foster continues to decline over the next few seasons.

Ben Tate

Tate is the obvious candidate to fill Foster’s shoes in the future.  After all, he was supposed to be the next big thing in Houston back in 2010 before a leg injury ended his season and opened the door for Foster in the first place.  In fact, he had nearly 1,000 yards in 2011 serving as Foster’s backup. In short, we know he has talent. With Foster having averaged over 370 touches the past couple of seasons, the Texans would love to see Tate fill his change of pace role again and be the heir apparent to the running back position.

The trouble with Tate is two-fold.

First, he’s struggled with injuries throughout his three-year career. Outside of his season-ending injury in 2010, Tate has also dealt with a variety of ailments, including foot and hamstring issues last season. When he played last year, it was obvious he was playing hurt.

The other problem facing Tate is the fact he’s a free agent after this season. It’s likely the Texans would lock him up with a long-term deal if he performs as well as he did in 2011, but that’s no given considering his injury history. If Tate doesn’t get himself on the field this season and perform well, Houston will likely let someone else overpay for his services.  If that happens, there’s no telling where his future value lies.

Ray Graham

Houston may not be counting on Tate beyond this season and that could be evident by their activity in the running back free agent market right after the draft. One of the backs the Texans rushed to sign was Graham, who went undrafted after a fairly productive career at the University of Pittsburgh.

Graham was a top prospect before tearing his ACL back in 2011. He played well coming back from that injury last season as he posted 1,042 yards  and 11 touchdowns  on 222 carries for the Panthers. The trouble with Graham and his draft stock wasn’t just his previously torn ACL, but his slow clocked time as well. He posted a 4.8 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine and was already known for lacking top end speed. Many NFL teams obviously saw him as simply not being dynamic enough to be a difference maker and chose to pass.

He’ll have a legitimate chance to make the roster and is a player to monitor throughout training camp. It’s possible Foster has a relatively quick career if he’s used as much as he has been the past two years and Tate could easily walk after this season. While it’s quite possible the Texans would go to the draft for a replacement back, Graham could make that a non-issue if he can show Houston his pre-injury collegiate form and silence those who doubt he has the speed to be successsful at the NFL level.

Cierre Wood

Wood was another undrafted free agent the Texans signed very quickly. The former Notre Dame back was expected to be taken late in the draft, but his drop could be the Texans gain. In his Irish career, he produced just 2,447 yards and 16 touchdowns , but also had a mere450 carries. He caught 52 passes, proving he has some talent as a pass catcher as well. Wood isn’t decisive and that’s a must to be successful in the Houston offensive system, but he could learn that in time. If he can do just that, he certainly has some upside.

Dennis Johnson

Johnson is short at only 5’6″, but weighs nearly 200 pounds.  He’s a very interesting player to watch as he posted an impressive 757 yards and eight touchdowns on just 137 carries last year for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Any SEC running back who can post 5.5 yards per carry should be on your radar and Johnson did just that. It’s concerning he didn’t have big games against LSU or Alabama, but it’s also important to note he received a total of only ten carries in those games as Arkansas was trounced by a combined score of 72-13 in those two contests.  Remember, it was Johnson and not Knile Davis who performed better in the Arkansas backfield last season. There’s an element of intrigue here and he should be monitored closely.

Deji Karim

Karim was signed after he attended rookie camp for the Texans this Spring, but there’s really not much to see here. If he can beat out Johnson, Wood and Graham, it’s more of an indictment on them than it is praise for Karim’s skill set. This is his third NFL stop (after Jacksonville and Indianapolis) and if the rest of the division didn’t really fight to keep him, it’s hard to see the Texans doing the same. Perhaps the Titans will be interested next so he can have a complete AFC South jersey collection.

Summary

There’s no doubt Arian Foster is the lone star in Houston. However, keeping track of this depth chart could be a very important task for dynasty owners this Summer. Chances are at least one of these players is going to have some significant future value. Camp battles provide some of the most fun in dynasty leagues and Houston’s running back depth chart is one to keep an eye on all the way through the preseason.

Lucky for you, we’ll be here the whole way.

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Ken Kelly

Senior Partner - Executive Editor at DynastyLeagueFootball
Ken is a corporate trainer by day an a tireless editor of dynasty content by night. His passion for the World Champion Seattle Seahawks is second only to his love of fantasy football and the dynasty format.

Ken is on Twitter at DLF_KenK
Ken Kelly
10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. German Cowboys

    May 17, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Perfect Article. Conclusion and advice for the Fantasy-gamer is ideal in my eyes.

  2. 420allstars.

    May 17, 2013 at 7:59 am

    I drafted Graham pretty late in this years rookie draft but honestly unless he shows some real upside I am not sure I will be able to roster him or any of the other names (besides tate)

    good artice though, a couple good names to keep an eye on..

  3. Ray

    May 17, 2013 at 8:49 am

    Don’t feel the heir to Foster is on the Texans roster yet. Curious what happens next yr in draft

    • Jacob Feldman

      May 17, 2013 at 9:04 am

      I would tend to agree. I think Tate will be gone before Foster is done, and I don’t think any of the others will be the guy. I would expect the Texans to spend a second or third round pick either next year or more likely in 2015 on someone that they plan on being the guy. Everyone else I see as just being depth at this point.

      • Eric Olinger

        May 17, 2013 at 9:22 am

        I think Cierre Wood has the potential to be a factor in the zone blocking scheme. He’s a decisive one cut runner who plays so much faster than his times.

        • Jacob Feldman

          May 17, 2013 at 10:12 am

          A factor or the guy in 2-3 years? Big difference in my mind. I see Graham and Wood as having the upside of being the minor part of a committee.

  4. Mercenaries

    May 17, 2013 at 10:53 am

    If Tate does walk in free agency next season, where do you see as a possible landing spot? Several of the more RB-needy teams filled drafted RBs this year. I would say maybe he stays in the AFC South and goes to the Colts. He’s better than any of the RBs that they currently have. Maybe if MJD doesn’t bounce back from his injury this year, the Jags would take Tate to replace him. Any thoughts?

    • Jacob Feldman

      May 17, 2013 at 11:29 am

      I have a very uneasy feeling about Tate in free agency. I almost feel like it is going to be another Michael Bush situation. Lots of high hopes and then they get crushed. Just a gut feeling that he is going to get paired up with someone or stay a backup.

      • Jack

        May 17, 2013 at 7:48 pm

        There aren’t a lot of open spaces for starting RBs available anymore either. Many teams spent in need spent high picks this year and last year filling those wholes to the point guys like Mendy and Bradshaw ended up on 1yr contracts or are still searching for work.

  5. BB Wayne

    May 18, 2013 at 11:32 pm

    I’ve read a lot about Foster’s demise but his declining YPC are misleading. Houston had to replace the entire right side of the line last year. Once the young guys up front started mastering the zone blocking, Foster’s YPC went up late in the year and in the playoffs.

    First 13 games = 4.3 avg
    Last 5 games including playoffs = 4.7 avg

    Yes, he has a lot of mileage but he avoids the big hit and takes phenomenal all care of his body. As long as the line is stable, he has good years ahead of him. If anything, I’m more worried about him just out retiring early because of the way he is wired. NAMASTE.

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